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I'm Not a Name Thief! (Right?)

A few months ago my beloved brother told me he had fallen in love with a particular baby name. As it happens, this name is one that my husband and I had considered for our first baby, and now that I'm pregnant again we'd like to use for this baby. It's not like we would be "stealing" my brother's favorite name. After all, there's no guarantee he'll have kids at all, nevermind kids of a particular gender, and this may never be a name that works out for him and his theoretical future partner. It seems like a lot to ask for us to give up the name for this hypothetical future nephew. Is first come, first served a good family naming policy?

-Big Sis

It's all too common for family members to want the same baby name.  Shared cultural backgrounds and personal reference points lead us to the same choices. In fact, it's a wonder that more Big Sisses and Little Bros aren't at each other's throats over "stolen" names.

Assuming nobody has a unique connection to the name, the Name Lady's rule of thumb is generally what you suggest: first come, first served. As you rightly point out, just because your brother likes the same baby name as you, doesn't mean he'll ever actually have the chance to use it. Especially in the case of family namesakes, it's better to ensure that somebody gets the coveted name and carries on the torch.

But there's more to this decision that whether you have the "right" to use the name. I have to ask you, as a loving Big Sis, how important is this particular name to you, really?

It doesn't sound like name you and your brother both love holds any particular family significance. If you don't use it and then your brother never has a baby, it's not like there will be no one in your family carrying on grandma's name. You say it was one of the names on your list during your first pregnancy. Were there other strong candidates, too?

In short, is this name so much better than the others on your list that it's worth the risk of puncturing your brother's dream bubble or creating a rift between you?

If your answer is yes, then have a frank talk with your brother NOW. Let him know that back when he told you about his love of the name, you had already targeted it yourself. Lay out the reasons why you plan to use it and ask his forgiveness in advance. Better yet, tell him that you hope the name will help build a special bond between him and his new niece or nephew. He might still be hurt or angry, but there's always a chance he'll come around to feeling excitement about seeing his dream name becoming reality, sooner rather than later.


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December 5, 2011 11:56 AM
By Joanna (not verified)

Keep in mind that just because you use the name doesn't mean that your brother can't or won't use it down the road as well. If that would really bother you, it might be another factor when deciding whether to use it yourself. Best wishes for a healthy pregnancy!

December 5, 2011 1:31 PM
By Ellie'smom (not verified)

My brother recently told last spring that if they have a third boy, they plan to use a name that has been at the top of the list for my husband and me (we only have girl, no boys yet). We immediately told him it was at the top of our list too. We laughed together and agreed that neither of us would object to having two in the family - and at the time we were living on opposite coasts. Since then, my brother and his wife have made plans to move to our city and we are both expecting babies. Neither of us know genders yet, but I'm viewing it as a first come, first serve. If they have a boy and DO choose that name, we plan to graciously opt to not use it - we do have other strong contenders on our list. But if they have a girl and WE have a boy, I won't feel bad about using it first. It will be up to them to choose whether or not to duplicate it down the road. Interestingly, it's not a family name, or even a top 100 name.

December 5, 2011 2:36 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I echo the sentiment that if you're both madly in love with it, there's no reason you both can't use it. I had two cousins named Michael and it was never an issue. When they were both in the same room, we'd tack on middle names, but neither one seems to have felt slighted. Unless it's a really rare name, just wait and see. Good luck!

December 5, 2011 6:14 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My husband and I actually had a similar dilemma but worse, since the name we wanted to use for our now-2-year-old son was a family name (my grandfather's), but also my brother's middle name, and one I knew he loved and might want to use for a future son of his own. We loved it enough to have a frank discussion with my brother, essentially asking his permission to use it. My husband and I had already agreed between us that if my brother had a real problem with us using it, then we wouldn't. To his credit, my brother was completely lovely about it -- he had no problem with us using it, especially as he couldn't guarantee that he'd ever be able to himself, and neither of us minded the idea of each of us having a son with the name. So we used it! It fits our son to a T, and I hope my brother is happy that part of his name lives on in his nephew as well.

December 5, 2011 7:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

is it 'stealing'? no, cause no one owns the name. but it isn't really that cool to do either. and keep in mind that saying things like, 'who knows if you'll ever even have a baby ever.' could be potentially offensive and hurtful. while i was engaged i had single friends talk about their dream wedding songs (all the while i was searching desperately for one and some of theirs seemed like great choices) but i would have NEVER taken theirs and not w/ the backhanded reasoning of 'who knows if anyone will ever even marry you.' cause it's kind of mean!

December 5, 2011 9:05 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

When I was expecting our 2nd girl at the same time as 3 friends/family members, I told them all that if we had a girl we planned to name her Isabel (this was about five years before the popularity of that name hit our area). I told them all I didn't care if they used it too, but I would be using it for sure. I think the above messages all say the same thing, be honest and up front and don't burn any family bridges over something like a name (and I love names as much as the rest of us on this site!)

December 6, 2011 10:40 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I generally don't mind name squabbles between family members but this one bothers me for some reason perhaps because I relate to it. I would never use a name I knew one of my siblings wanted to use especially if it was their #1 name - if it's like their 10th favourite name okay maybe but their #1 name I would steer away from in respect and love for them. especially if I already had the chance to use my favourite name on an elder child. There are millions of names but I only have one brother and he's more important to me than any name could be. I'd just pick another. I think deep down even if they don't show it, I think everyone is disappointed when their favourite name is used. It may not cause a rift especially if you're close but I think it's just disrespectful and selfish to use the name that someone you love has told you they want that name.

December 6, 2011 1:11 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Name Lady hit it out of the park! I also love what Ellie's Mom had to say. My husband's SIL sent me an email claiming the name I'd casually mentioned to her as the name we'd use if we had a daughter one day (never again!). By the time I'd gotten pregnant, a variation of that name was so popular, I no longer wanted to use it. So there's another reason why Big Sis should use the name - her brother may no longer even want it when the time comes! Furthermore, I had a new favorite name in mind when I finally did have my daughter, but when she was born, that didn't "look" like her name to me anymore - and I didn't even know that name HAD a look! Ha, ha. So I think Big Sis should do the soul-searching on the name, then have a talk with the brother if she really needs to use that name and I really think everything's going to work out - it did for me, twice over.

December 6, 2011 2:58 PM
By VioletCupcake (not verified)

Recently both my sister in laws on my husbands side got pregnant (one is my husbands sister, the other is the wife of his brother). Both decided individually decided to name their babies Chloe if they had girls. It took them a while to realize that this was both their top name choice for a girl. I knew before anyone, since I am name obsessed, and always ask anyone who is pregnant about their baby name choices. So when they finally realized, my husbands sister flipped out on her brothers wife, claiming she had that name first! While she was being ugly, she was in the hospital because she was experiencing problems with her pregnancy. A few days later she found out she had a miscarriage. She then called her brothers wife from the doctors office and told her that even though this was an unplanned pregnancy, that she would now try to have another baby (she already has 4 kids with 3 different guys and is not married) so she could have a girl and name her Chloe.
How insanely rediculous is that?! Yikes!! I just hope she doesn't ever decide she likes my name choice for a girl.
Luckily the other sis in law is having a boy. Maybe that will end the maddness.

December 6, 2011 3:40 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

I know of two large families with established rules about this.

My sister-in-law from Spain is the daughter of a man with nine brothers. All but one of these brothers has named his first born son after their father, as have several of the next generation. It's only a problem if you go to family reunions and call out "Marcelo!" and half the men and boys there expect you to have something to say to them. Of course, if you want to get the attention of most of the room... it's pretty easy when one name will do it.

Meanwhile, my best friend is the youngest surviving sibling of ten. Her mother had 67 grandchildren and is already in the double digits with great grandchildren. They have a rule that first names can not be used more than once in a given generation, but that no one has dibs. Being the youngest, my friend was deeply annoyed that many of her favorite names were used well before she was even old enough to date. She begged her siblings to save Adam, Joshua and Rachel for her. They honored her wishes on the boy names, but one sister used Rachel on her 12th child. As it turns out, two boys were all my friend ever got, so it worked out just fine, and she was pretty understanding about her sister using Rachel. When you've already got 11 kids, it's not so easy to find more names you can be excited about.

December 8, 2011 3:15 PM
By Kit (not verified)

I encouraged my sister to pick my favorite name because I knew my husband would never agree to it. She didn't so I'll try again with the next pregnant family member.

December 8, 2011 4:08 PM
By Sebalek (not verified)

Here's the deal. You're pregnant NOW and the name you both like was on your top contenders list from #1. Your brother, on the other hand, is apparently not married or in a serious enough relationship to truly be worried about when he might have a child, much less what name he might choose for it. You and your husband have agreed on this name already, and that's a hard enough job without "some day" children thrown in the mix.

Assuming he didn't get the idea from you (being that it WAS on your list and he might have heard it while you were discussing names with family/friends), be upfront with him and tell him it was your #2 pick from your first child (if the same gender) and that you and your DH had planned to use it if your 2nd was the right gender. Hopefully, he won't make a big deal out of it and will feel a special connection to this new member of your family.

It may be a name he likes, but the future mother of his hypothetical child may have very different ideas on the names she'd like for their children, not to mention that he may very well change his mind over time. Many men are not as attached to names the way women can be. They are much more apt to have names they absolutely WON'T consider as opposed to names they MUST use (particularly if there is no significant tie to a name).

However, that being said, if you don't know the gender yet or there is a chance you might change your mind come due day, it's not worth the fight. If either of those things are true, let your brother know that you had been considering X as a name before he mentioned it and hope that he'll be fine if you go that route at some future point.

December 9, 2011 4:43 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I had a similar situation with a cousin of mine. I was pregnant with a my 1st child, a little girl. My cousin informed me that our name choice was one she "had always intended to use." I still gave our daughter the name as my cousin was not yet married. It worked out fine; her future husband ended up having a cousin who used the name for her 1st born daughter! Plus, my cousin's husband had already decided what he'd like to name his 1st born daughter some day.

December 11, 2011 11:32 AM
By Juli (not verified)

A century or so ago, when eight (surviving) children per family was not unusual, you see a *lot* of first cousins with the same names. It can make genealogy especially interesting when the same-named cousins have the same family name: being first cousins, they tend to be about the same age, often with the same occupation (farmer), living in the same place.

December 11, 2011 8:13 PM
By mk (not verified)

You can use the name if you like and if he still likes it when he has kids, so can he. It is no big deal. I don't even think a conversation is necessary, personally. I have multiple repeated names in my family, even among first cousins. Never thought it odd and as far as I know it caused no issues when the names were being given.

Maybe that's why we never hear of more siblings "at each others' throats." Because it is not as big a deal as people worry it may be.

December 12, 2011 12:48 PM
By cb (not verified)

This has caused some tension in my family. I don't understand why people don't do one simple thing in this situation: communicate.
My aunt Missy and cousin Angela were both pregnant, and both loved the name Chloe for a girl. Angela found out she was having a girl first, so she got dibs on the name and Missy promised she wouldn't use it. Instead, she went for another popular one, Madison. Soon after, Angela's sister Alison found out she was pregnant. And she had a girl too! And without even talking it over with Missy, she also chose the name Madison. And it really did bother my aunt and a few other people in the family (including myself, as a name lover I can't see why you'd pick such a popular name or a duplicate in the family when there are SO many names out there!)
I can't help but feel if Alison had just ASKED Missy if it was okay with her, then the whole thing may have been avoided. If she had said she wasn't okay with it, Alison would have had time to pick and get comfortable with another name. Or perhaps Missy would have felt okay with it if she'd simply been asked, and tensions would have been avoided.

December 12, 2011 5:57 PM
By SIL snafu (not verified)

My husband and I "named" our (potential) children long, long ago and let everyone know that these were going to be the names of children if we had them regardless of what any new family babies were named. My sister-in-law named her child a different version of the name we wanted to use (think Guillermo vs. William) and then got very upset when we named our child the "same" name. I guess she forgot the conversation or just thought that when it came down to it we would change our minds. We didn't. They don't live nearby and it hasn't been a problem for us but I think it may still irk her. *shrug*

December 25, 2011 11:07 PM
By Anna (not verified)

Maybe the name has an "alternative" name. For example in my family I have a Annabelle and a Beth-Anna as cousins and I'm an Anna. See our mom's grandmother was Annabelle and they all loved the name. Annabelle is the oldest so her mother got the name "first" and I am second so I got the "shot version" and poor Anna-Beth got jipped. But in my sister, Elizabeth's case we have a cousin on our father's side named Elizabeth also but my sister goes by Elle and our cousin goes by Lizzy so maybe you and your brother could share the name and come up with other nicknames.

January 3, 2012 4:39 PM
By Debbie (not verified)

I am the oldest and the only married person in my sib set of 4. I have always been obssessed with names (I have lists from the age of roughly 5, and I don't throw them out but rather update them periodically, which makes for some interesting reading!). I decided at a young age that I loved the name Xander, but would name a son Alexander so he'd have options. Many of my coveted names were nixed by my husband when we started trying to get pregnant, but he has always loved Xander too. And was willing to use Alexander just to appease me. When my brother's girlfriend got pregnant while we were still trying, they planned on naming their son after her dad, Patrick. But in a search for a middle name, we were discussing names and I mentioned our love for Alexander. Long story short, I have a 4 year old nephew named Alexander Patrick. He goes by Alex, but it still feels wrong to use Alexander again amongst cousins. At the same time that brother was pregnant, one if my others was expecting as well. They chose my top girl name, Lillie, after my grandma. It's a family name so I respect first-come, first-serve, but it upset me for quite some time. I have yet to get pregnant so I know there may never have been a little Lillie or Alexander if my brothers hadn't beat me to it. But when you have loved a name for so long you can practically see the child, and wait for the day when you're known as "Lillie's mom," it's hard to let go. I told my brothers they'd better save my other girl name for me, because it's after my other grandma who they don't even remember. Of course, I tend to lean toward not-top-of-the-list names, but each name I love makes it on the list anyhow. I hope to have baby Nora before the name becomes so popular I'm sick of it, but unless my brothers take that name too, I'll still use it. 1 of 3 isn't bad I guess.

January 3, 2012 7:02 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Great point!

January 3, 2012 11:37 PM
By Beth (not verified)

My cousin and I are two weeks apart, and both named Elizabeth. My mother, since she had the younger child, simply nicknamed me Beth. This does not have to be an issue.

January 5, 2012 5:28 PM
By Julianna (not verified)

My husband and I are expecting our first child and both really like the name Mason. There is no signifigance to this name, we just both like it! I am 5 mos. along and found out we are having a boy! I was recently told by my husband's cousins girlfriend that she has been using the name Mason for her expected baby, but she is only 8 weeks and has no idea what she's having. I told her we had thought of the name the first time we were expecting but I lost the baby. Now she has blocked me from her Facebook and will not talk to me, or my husband. I wasn't upset about her wanting to have a Mason, I told her there can be two in the family and that it'd be funny! Am I in the wrong for wanting to stick with using the name???

January 6, 2012 11:35 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

No Julianna, you're not in the wrong at all, and you should use the name you & your husband love! Best wishes on your pregnancy!

January 7, 2012 9:39 PM
By Laura V (not verified)

Julianna -- no, you're not wrong for wanting to stick with the name, but I submit that talking about pregnancy loss to other pregnant people is...probably unkind. Some women have very intense reactions to it, so it's possible that your husband's cousin is reacting to THAT and not to the name issue. (Or that now every time she tries to think about her Mason, she thinks about your loss and gets re-freaked-out, or whatever.)

A "oh, that's so funny, that is what we are thinking of for our baby" would have served the same communicating-that-you-want-to-use-the-name purpose; she might still have got all upset but at least you could be sure she was just being nutty.

January 8, 2012 7:08 PM
By Marea (not verified)

I have a sister named Maria, and two cousins with the same name. Also, four cousins named Sophia(not to mention one Sofia and a Sofi). A name is a name is a name.

February 26, 2012 12:29 AM
By Zoe (not verified)

I'd say it's first come first served. Only two exceptions- if two siblings are expecting at the same time (then they should discuss) and if one sibling has spent years talking about a name. My older sister loves the name Yael. She's loved it for years. It's not a name I'd ever really use, but even if I did, I'd back off because I know my sister has made it clear.

May 6, 2013 1:24 AM
By Business Directory (not verified)

Great article – very relevant points and, from my perspective, very accurate and reflective of the real world. Networking and referral business is by far the biggest source of business for us

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